Students had the rare opportunity to observe appeals court proceedings on the Cornell campus on Friday.
To increase the public’s awareness of its purpose and procedures, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Third Judicial Department heard oral arguments from 12 cases in the MacDonald Moot Court Room in Myron Taylor Hall.
“It is important for people to be able to observe the judicial process from the trial level through the appeals because a lot more goes into court cases than actually appears in our decisions. It gives the public a better understanding of the arguments and what part everyone plays,” said Anthony V. Cardona, Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department.
The Appellate Division, Third Department has made a commitment to hold its hearings throughout the 28 counties in its jurisdiction for residents of those counties to be able to observe its proceedings.
The court normally holds its proceedings in the state Justice Building in Albany.
“People are very busy and can’t just hop in a car and travel to Albany to see the appeals process,” Cardona said.
According to Cardona, this is the Appellate Division’s third appearance at the Cornell Law School. The court held proceedings there in April 1996 and September 1999.
According to Charles Cramton law ’83, assistant dean for graduate legal studies at Cornell Law School, the idea for the court to travel throughout its broad jurisdiction to hear its cases came from New York State Chief Justice Judith Kaye.
“Justice Kaye encourages the courts to be proactive in terms of public relations,” Cramton said.
The Appellate Division hears cases on appeal from every state trial court, including criminal, civil, Family Court and Court of Claims cases. The Appellate Division hears approximately 16,000 appeals annually, 200 of which will be appealed to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. In New York, the Supreme Court is the civil trial court.
Each department of the Appellate Division is comprised of 10 justices from the state Supreme Court who are appointed by the governor to sit on the appellate bench.
The Third Department’s jurisdiction spans from Sullivan County in the Catskills to the Canadian border and from New York’s eastern border with Massachusetts and Vermont to Schuyler County, just west of Ithaca.
Traditionally, only five justices sit on the bench at one time. At this session, Justices Anthony J. Carpinello, John A. Lahtinen, Thomas E. Mercure and Robert S. Rose were present, in addition to Presiding Justice Anthony V. Cardona.
Justice Cardona explained to students that since the Court of Appeals hears only 200 cases each year, the Appellate Division is the final arbiter in the vast majority of cases.
The court heard a broad range of cases while at Cornell, such as driving while intoxicated arrest procedures, divorce settlements, domestic abuse cases, zoning disputes involving Wal-Mart and property usage. Most of these cases involved parties in the areas surrounding Tompkins County.
One of the cases, Turner v. Caesar, involved a property owner being sued for his year-round use of his property when an agreement existed limiting it to summer use. The appellant, or party bringing the appeal, argued that the covenant restricting the property to summer use was essential to the preservation to the adjacent lake’s ecosystem. The respondent, or defendant at the appellate level, refuted the appellant’s assertions and argued that there are numerous residents in the area that live on their lakeside property all year and that by enforcing the covenant, all of these property owners would be forced to move.
The decision in each of the 12 cases will be issued by the court in about six weeks.
Prof. Glenn Galbreath, law, stressed the importance of actually observing appellate trials, rather than merely reading the court’s decision.
“[The students] get a much better feel for who the clients are and how the attorneys focus a case. They also get to see some of the give and take between judges and attorneys and how the issues of the case are sought,” Galbreath said.
Galbreath added that many of the issues of cases are not even mentioned in the Court’s opinion.
“There are many indirect factors that affect other parties who might not be involved with a particular case. These considerations may be brought up in the arguments but not directly addressed in the decision,” Galbreath said.
Cramton also expressed the law school’s willingness to have the Appellate Division hold its proceedings here more frequently.
“We would be glad to do it on an annual basis if the Court could fit it into its schedule,” Cramton said.
One student who attended the proceedings said she felt that it was helpful in understanding the entire judicial process.
“I think that the justice system cannot exist without the respect of the public, and where the public is able to see and understand what happens in the courtroom at the trial or appellate level, public confidence in the courts and the justice system as a whole is heightened,” said Lindsay Lippman law ’04.
Lippman also suggested that the introduction of cameras into courtrooms might be an effective tool in increasing the public’s awareness of the courts.
“Hopefully, cameras will be allowed in the courtrooms, so that the public will have more opportunities to understand and have access to the judicial process,” Lippman noted.
Archived article by Seth Harris